Unionville says feds are out to lunch. Good.

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It’s high time local government and school boards pushed back on state and federal overreach

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

UTMikeColLogoThere’s a little bit of revolution brewing in Unionville. And it’s a good thing.

In case you missed it, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Board of Education voted last week to withdraw Unionville High School from the National School Lunch Program. While on first blush that might seem like a rash move, it was the exactly correct reaction to an overreach of federal bureaucrats and First Lady Michelle Obama.

It’s a move I hope other school districts in Chester County follow.

Since new, healthier lunch standards went into effect in 2012, Unionville High School’s cafeteria has seen a decline in lunch purchases — and district Food Service Director Marie Wickersham said earlier this month she fears that if the high school follows the new, even more stringent rules for 2014-15, the district’s food service program will go into the red for the first time in decades, as kids “just say no” to lunch.

Enough, said the board of education, and they sensibly voted to become one of just a handful of districts in the state to opt out. Unionville will continue to abide by the healthier rules set out for 2012, but not the 2014-15 rules. The new rules — requiring exclusively whole-grain baked goods, reduced sodium and the end of in-school bake sales, candy fundraising sales and the like among other things — will still go into effect for the districts elementary schools and its middle school.

I have no doubt that Mrs. Obama and the officials from Food and Drug Administration that came up with the standard mean well, but they are misguided. Healthy food isn’t particularly healthy if it ends up in a trash can and kids run down to the local convenience store and eat Cheetos for lunch.

And while students in Unionville are likely to go home to a bevy of healthy meals, in less wealthy districts, making the meals unpalatable to students could actually worsen their health, by causing them to skip the healthiest meal they get all day. Ironically, this is exactly what President Barack Obama would describe as “the perfect being the enemy of the good.”

The standards in place the last few years — coupled with a district wellness policy — make sure that every child is fed a healthy meal — likely vastly healthier than most of us adults eat. Was it really necessary for the federal government to take it even farther?

Also, isn’t it important for kids to learn to make choices? If not, they’ll go off to college ill-prepared for life in the real world.

Michael Rock, a member of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, argued later in the meeting that school boards need to become more activist and less accepting of top-down mandates and burdens when they clearly have a negative impact on local schools and taxpayers.

Rock is completely right. As I’ve been saying for a number of years, the fact that local school boards have meekly accepted the pension mess, endured having to privatize services, cut programs and/or raise taxes enables those making those sort of decisions to continue doing so without consequence.

I’m even beginning to be persuaded that the anger about the Keystone Exams is appropriate. While I’m not in the camp that thinks we need to ditch the exams and Common Core curriculum, the early test results make me think it’s not ready for prime time.

Using the tests as a graduation condition starting in 2017 — a test, that based on the failure rate, is probably half-baked and poorly aligned with what is being taught in Pennsylvania classrooms — is a big mistake. Pushing it back to 2025 when there is a solid base of data on the tests and districts have enough time to align curriculum to the tests makes more sense to me.

I’m not one to throw the baby out with bathwater — the test is a needed evaluation tool, both for student progress and coming teacher evaluations — but it is important to have something as important as a graduation requirement done properly. I’m not convinced of that when it comes to the Keystone Exam.

Similarly, blindly ridiculous state Department of Environmental Protection rules on stormwater runoff aren’t just expensive, there’s a great likelihood they won’t do any good. New rules restricting sediment run off into streams such as the Brandywine and Red Clay and White Clay don’t address the issue in a measurable way and often appear random at best, while placing expensive burdens on local municipalities.

I grant there is a real sediment problem in the Delaware Valley and the Christiana Basin, but this crazy quilt approach, with no way to measure its impact, will fix little if of it, while costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in local tax money.

While there have been a few protests, most of the reaction has been muted. It shouldn’t be.

With elections in 2014 — the governor, every member of the state house and half of the state senators are up for reelection — your local officials should be pressing on issues like this and others. And if they’re not, you should. Nothing motivates an elected official like a passel of voters complaining about the same issue and asking them, exactly, what they’re doing to fix it.

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